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Collin Morikawa has all the tools for success

Collin Morikawa smiles after a birdie on the 16th hole during the final round of the PGA Championship.
(Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

The golf ball trickled into the 14th hole at Harding Park. Forty miles to the east, a household erupted.

Walter Chun jumped up from his couch and howled. His wife, Grace, did the same. Their 5-year-old daughter, Lena, who didn’t want to be watching the PGA Championship in the first place, cupped her hands over her ears and left the room in disgust.

Collin Morikawa was on his way to winning a major championship, and Chun, his college coach at California, couldn’t contain himself. That 54-foot birdie chip on 14 broke a seven-way tie for first place, and marked the point where Morikawa started to move away from the field for good.

“If you look at any of Collin’s scorecards, you know that at any point he can really catch fire,” Chun said Monday, a day after Morikawa’s stirring two-stroke victory. “He’s got lightning in a bottle. He just gets a little bit of confidence, and when that thing chipped in, you saw his fist pump and saw his excitement. That’s when I knew, like, oh man.”

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Collin Morikawa joins Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy as only golfers to win PGA before turning 24.

With the general public not allowed at the tournament because of the pandemic, and players tickets extremely limited — Morikawa’s girlfriend and agent were there — the Chuns watched from their townhome in San Ramon. They wanted to experience the broadcast with their kids, even if their kids would have opted for cartoons.

Chun felt goosebumps Sunday, but he didn’t truly feel choked up until he spoke with Morikawa on Monday.

“I guess as parents and coaches, we know the statistics are against someone making it on the PGA Tour,” Chun said. “You root for them to achieve that, and when you see someone achieve a dream like that, it’s like a father seeing his son graduate, or becoming a grandparent. That’s the kind of feeling I had.”

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Morikawa, 23, a former La Cañada High star, wore his heart in his hip pocket, frequently flipping through the blue-and-gold yardage book emblazoned with “Go Bears,” and in the afterglow of victory talked about what the school meant to him.

“It just got me to open up and have some fun,” he said. “Being out here in the Bay, I was very fortunate with the coaches, the people … everyone who helped me get to the point of graduating. I couldn’t be more thankful to them, because they set that foundation for me to achieve my goals.”

Collin Morikawa reacts as the top of the Wanamaker Trophy falls after winning the PGA Championship.
Collin Morikawa reacts as the top of the Wanamaker Trophy falls after winning the PGA Championship on Sunday.
(Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

Not only did he graduate from the Haas School of Business in four years, but he was a four-time All-American and Pac-12 player of the year.

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Still, a lot of golfers are fantastic in college, yet precious few go on to win PGA Tour events — Morikawa had two such victories heading into this PGA Championship. And far fewer actually go on to win a major.

CBS’ Jim Nantz, for one, thinks Morikawa’s game is built to last, and that he’s likely to be in contention for majors for years to come.

“He’s got a classical swing that certainly has enough length to it where he doesn’t have to be intimidated by the guys who are just going to be big bombers,” Nantz said Monday. “He’s got everything that works for him. That doesn’t look like it’s fragile at all, in any capacity. Right through his bag, right through his mind, right through his composure, his poise, his presence, there’s nothing there to say he’s ever going to waver from that.”

Back in La Cañada, friends know Morikawa as a regular guy, intensely competitive, but as normal and unimpressed with himself as you can get.

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Morikawa’s girlfriend is Katherine Zhu, a former Pepperdine golfer. The couple hasn’t been able to travel to Tour events as much together during the pandemic. So during his spare time, Morikawa plays a lot of “Call of Duty” online with his high school friends. That’s how he staves off loneliness and boredom, and keeps in contact with the outside world.

Collin Morikawa, who attended La Cañada High School and Cal, sinks an eagle and a birdie over the final five holes to win the PGA Championship.

Because he didn’t grow up playing video games — golf consumed most of his life away from school — Morikawa isn’t as good as he’d like to be at them. But he’s intensely competitive, and his friends needle him about his exacting standards for himself.

They’ve also rounded into big golf fans who try to attend his tournaments whenever possible.

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“When he’s fresh off a win, we’ll log into a game and start talking about how the tournament went,” high school friend Nick Pereira said. “There will be some random person in the game who asks what we’re talking about, and I’ll say, `You’re talking to a championship golfer.’”

Well, Morikawa certainly wasn’t going to tell them.

“Yeah,” Pereira said, “you can feel him rolling his eyes through the headset.”

Morikawa had better get used to that. There’s no end in sight.


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